Cicer Milkvetch – A Non-bloat-inducing Forage Legume
By Anowar Islam, UW Extension Forage Specialist
Cicer milkvetch is a perennial, introduced forage legume. Its growth habit is prostrate to decumbent type, which means it does not normally grow upright. Instead it grows near the soil surface. Generally with advancement of time, it stretches out, lying at full length along the ground. Cicer milkvetch has a hollow lush stem. It has many pairs of leaflets that appear on the main leafstalk, with a terminal leaflet. The leaflet number varies with a range of eight to 17 pairs. These lancelike leaflets are green to dark green in color. This legume can grow up to one to three feet canopy height.
Cicer milkvetch has a wide range of adaptation. It can be grown in a range of soil and climatic conditions, from drylands with more than 12 inches precipitation to irrigated conditions. It prefers calcareous, or high pH, soils, but the plant has the ability to grow moderately on acidic and alkaline soils. It is very winter hardy.
Germination, seedling emergence and establishment of Cicer milkvetch is slow. Compared to alfalfa and sainfoin, Cicer milkvetch starts slow growth in spring when temperature is low, between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it starts slow, especially in the first year of establishment, it develops a lot of rhizomes and becomes aggressive, with a vigorous rhizomatous growth in the following years. It has prolific seed-producing ability and the potential of producing many new plants.
Cicer milkvetch is not very shade tolerant. It can be grown in mixture with some grasses and is compatible with a number of grasses including smooth bromegrass, creeping foxtail and wheatgrasses. Cicer milkvetch is not very compatible with timothy, sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil and red clover. It has very good nitrogen-fixing ability.
Yield of Cicer milkvetch varies depending on the climatic and growing conditions. This legume can produce high yield and excellent quality forage compared to other temperate legumes. A study at the Department of Plant Sciences in the University of Wyoming showed that Cicer milkvetch can produce comparable yield and quality forage as alfalfa, sainfoin and medics.
Cicer milkvetch can be established either in spring or fall. In Wyoming conditions, spring planting works better than fall planting, provided that weeds and existing pasture competition are minimized. The recommended seeding rate is 16-20 pounds per acre. However in mixed planting with grass, the seeding rate would be about half the recommended rate.
Cicer milkvetch has hard seedcoat. Seed scarification or use of older seed is generally recommended. A study at the Department of Plant Sciences of University of Wyoming showed that hard seed content of Cicer milkvetch can be reduced from over 70 percent to below 10 percent with mechanical scarification.
Cicer milkvetch responds well to fertilizers, especially lime, if the soil is acidic. Monocultures and mixtures with grass generally do not require any nitrogen fertilizer. It is highly recommended to use Cicer milkvetch-specific bacterial inoculant to inoculate seeds before planting.
There are several varieties commercially available to purchase. These include Lutana, Monarch, Windsor, Oxley and AC Oxley II. AC Oxley II is a newer variety with improved seedling vigor and forage yield. It is recommended to ask about the correct bacterial inoculant during seed purchase.
Cicer milkvetch is a very good forage legume that can be used for high quality pasture or hay. In the case of grazing, a rotational grazing system is preferred to continuous stocking. It is also suited to conservation as hay because of its dense foliage and high moisture content, making it more difficult to dry than other legumes. Careful hay handling is necessary during the hay making process to avoid any loss in nutritional quality.
Limited pest infestation has been reported in Cicer milkvetch. However some root, crown and stem rot diseases can be found in this legume. Strong rhizomatous growth habit enables it to resist any adverse effects.
Cicer milkvetch is a very good legume species with high yield, excellent forage quality, high persistence and good nitrogen fixing ability. It is a non-bloat-inducing legume, meaning it provides less potential for bloat problems. Additionally, it is a species that allows for wildlife and has potential for soil erosion control and reclamation of disturbed lands because of its aggressive rhizomatous growth habit.
Anowar Islam is an associate professor and the University of Wyoming Extension forage specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.